Last week, an ordinary mother not unlike you, in fact perhaps very much like you, went with one of her older children to Confession.
And when I say ‘one of her older children’ I actually mean ‘young adult’ because although the aforementioned person will always be his mother’s ‘little boy’, he is in his early twenties, lives many miles away and was only home on vacation, so he of course isn’t a child any more. And when I say ‘went with’ what I really mean is ‘took’ because while this offspring of hers practices the faith of his childhood, he may quite possibly not have chosen to go to the sacrament that day, had the mother not said she was going and suggested that he tag along and that then they could stop for coffee afterwards. She is unsure about whether he needed this nudge or not but she is his mother and loves him fiercely and has a long history of risking nagging for the sake of the greater good. So she nudged.
This young adult, of course, is quite capable of managing his personal spiritual life, yet this mother still worries whether she is doing enough to support and encourage. You see she made a promise when the son was a newborn infant- a promise to help him grow in faith in every way she knows how, with all her strength until the day she dies. And she is not dead.
On that day she made that promise, she also begged God to watch over and protect this child morally, physically, emotionally, all the days of his life, and told God she will do whatever it takes – forever- to cooperate for this intention and help accomplish this. When she invited this son to Confession despite the fact that she had gone less than a week before, she was delighted that he had accepted.
Now, the mother and son are standing in line for Confession together:
The wait is long and the line is slow and the mother is secretly worried that her son will want to leave because the wait is long and the line is slow and he is quick-thinking, quick-deciding and not unlike her, somewhat impatient. In fact, after awhile, the mother herself wants to leave because the wait is long and the line is slow.
But she doesn’t.
As the mother stands there waiting with her son (her own impatience growing, now she has something more to confess), she catches a glimpse of the exposed Blessed Sacrament, there on the altar, also waiting…for her. And suddenly, unexpectedly, something hits her like a roaring train on the tracks of an unsuspecting small town:
He is here.
She remembers and realizes the reality of Who is there and why He is there and the significance of Him- the Son- being there …while he – her son- is there, with her.
And she recognizes the opportunity present, and has a sudden urge of inspiration to re-dedicate this child to God and renew the plea for His protection of him.
Spontaneously, she whispers in a wave of emotion:
Here he is, Lord. I brought him to You today. Pierce his heart and soul with Your Love. Give him Your grace and courage and peace and strength. Keep him close to You and help him now and always…whatever it takes from me…whatever it takes….
This mother prays these ending words whatever it takes not because she thinks that God is a punishing God who only bestows gifts only for a trade-off of pain but she prays these words because she knows He is a loving God who allows His creatures the privilege of participation, and she knows the the beauty and restorative power of redemptive suffering that occurs when one, even if just a mother, unites her suffering to His. She does not know what her son needs but she knows whatever it is, God will provide it and she offers her life –spiritual and physical- again for him.
Because God is a loving and merciful Father, the mother who helps bring forth the physical life through birth to her children- is granted too the opportunity, indeed daily is granted the opportunity, to also bring them in part, in a very small way, to the threshold of God and eternal life, mysteriously, through her cooperation and merits. She and her life can become vessels of grace again and again.
Clearly, quietly and firmly in this mother’s heart she hears an answer to her spur-of-the-moment prayer: YES.
Yes! It is distinct and profound and quiet, very still. And she feels the warmth and presence and sweetness from the altar, the dwelling place of Him and she feels her heart will burst in the significance and renewal of this moment.
Then a door closes and the mother looks up. Her son has entered the confessional. Moments later she does too.
In the days that follow, the mother contracts the flu, just as the abovementioned young adult child is about to depart on a plane back to his place of residence and work thousands of miles away. She does not hug him goodbye nor stand and look face-to-face into his eyes before he leaves, as she normally does, for fear of exposing him to her illness and fever. Instead, she stands in the door of the room, 15 feet away, as he turns with his duffle bag and she ‘air hugs’ him. He air-hugs her back. She will probably not see him for months, but she remembers that even little sacrifices like foregone hugs can contribute to the good of those she loves when she unites these actions with Christ.
The days that follow her son’s departure are full of daily mundane challenges- and the now familiar thought of noble redemptive suffering punctuates itself in another inconvenience, when this mother discovers her email has been hacked. Hundreds of people have received messages about discounted Rolex watches from her account. And because this mother didn’t catch this hacking for several days (she has been sick and offline you know) her Twitter account has also been compromised, and shut down. But she deals with these problems, as well as mountains of laundry that have amassed in her illness, patiently and carefully, not because it is in her nature, but because there is a higher reason and an intention for which to pray, and she knows that work and suffering can be prayer. There is an acceptance because there is a purpose.
When the jury selection order appears in her mailbox, on the heels of this trying week right when she is scheduled to resume homeschool with her youngest three children, and when she calls the bailiff to ask for a deferral until summer so she can meet her state’s 180 day education requirement, and when the bailiff is cold and indifferent to her plight and is in fact rude when she finds out the mother homeschools, and denies her request, the mother does not succumb to frustration in the least. Because of an encounter earlier that week, in fact, she smiles.
This mother, this ordinary mother not unlike you, in fact perhaps very much like you, thinks about the new month of January, full of promise and opportunity and new beginnings. She thinks about the sacrament of Confession and its opportunity and new beginning as well. She thinks of Him, and him, and her. And how they are all intertwined in love and sacrifice. She thinks of how acceptance can be a gift.
And this mother ponders the turn of events in the previous week, amazed at the God who allows not just her but all mothers the opportunity to be living gifts to their families. They–we are not just gifts in physical ways such as doing the laundry and preparing meals and kissing boo boos of young children. No, they–we can be gifts in large and significant ways, united-in-redemptive suffering ways, in leading-our-children-to-Christ ways.
We can be gifts to our families in eternal ways by dedicating, praying, leading, suffering, accepting, and uniting in Christ what we do. The profound can indeed be quiet. The significant can be simple. And we need to remind one another of this, as ordinary mothers. The consequences of what we do can be everlasting.